The Australian Institute of Employment Rights hosted a panel discussion at the recent Progress conference on the future of work.
The nature of work is rapidly changing. The global trend of insecure and precarious work is increasingly evident in Australia. Technology is have a substantial impact on work practices. Many of the new innovations in workplaces are having a detrimental impact on people undertaking work.
We called the workshop the “uberisation” of work as Uber, the new app-based taxi service, is an example of technology rapidly disrupting an old industry model, while raising important questions on the implications for new models of work. Uber is a company valued at around $15 billion that some argue is built on the company “skirting employment responsibilities and having drivers bear the costs of its business operations”.
The on-demand economy epitomised by Uber is likely to have profound implications for the nature of work, resulting in increasingly fragmented working lives for many.
The panel included Clare Ozich, Executive Director of AIER; Jess Walsh, Victorian Secretary of United Voice; and Gary Maas, Victorian Secretary of NUW.
Gary led the discussion off taking us through the business model of Uber. While noting the selling points of this new service such as better customer experiences, he went onto discuss how the costs of the business were all on the drivers, the impact of the constant monitoring of performance through real time ratings, and the insecure and fragmented nature of the work.
Gary then turned to the experiences of the NUW’s members with insecure work, using the example of the recent 4 Corners episode “Slaving Away”, which looked at the unscrupulous labour hire contractors operating on farms and in factories around the country.
Jess presented a statistical snapshot of what has happened to wages and profit shares in the Australian economy and the growing inequity experienced by low paid workers. Both Jess and Gary argued for more focused organising strategies and the need to build more effective political power to better address the growing scourge of precarious work.
Clare looked to place the discussion in the context of the broader progressive movement. Technology is impacting work not just through facilitating the growth of on-demand work or even in technology replacing workers. But also in de-humanising work in the name of efficiency and productivity. For example rostering technology is removing the human element in negotiating rosters that can work for employers and workers; real-time monitoring of turnover versus labour costs is further fragmenting work; and surveillance technologies are intruding on people’s privacy.
As progressives, we should all be conscious of these trends and understand it is an issue for all of us and how we operate and the values we project. If we promote or buy into the promise of convenience that the on-demand work promotes, or unquestioningly take on unpaid interns for example, we are perpetuating an exploitative labour practice.